(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Address to the Nation)
In this time, our country needs leadership, direction and clarity. I am very concerned that our Government has still not heeded calls to close our seaports and airports to all but essential travel and commerce. Nearly all the other Caribbean countries and many countries worldwide have seen it necessary to do so. Closing the country’s borders is a critical step in reducing the spread of the virus.
My friends, it makes sense to secure the borders for a while. This would allow us to deal with the situation inside the country without having also to manage new arrivals, and worry about what might come in on the next flight or on the yachts that enter our ports at Wallilabou, Kingstown and Blue Lagoon.
Our situation in SVG of having only one confirmed COVID-19 case should not lure us into a false sense of security. For even if we manage to put out a spark in our own house, we must acknowledge that the fire continues to rage outside, and that it still threatens to engulf us! In fact that threat grows greater, not less, by the day. So, clearly, we are not out of the woods yet– not by a long shot.
This means we must do all we can to protect our people. This requires closing our borders for a while by suspending all arrivals at our airports and seaports, except essential travellers (including nationals) and commerce. We would then review the decision as conditions change. Taking this action now will give us the best chance of avoiding more cases of COVID-19 in SVG and of reducing the risk of an outbreak that may overburden our fragile healthcare system. The situation as it is now is creating unacceptable risks to the health and safety of our people. It is better to be safe than sorry!
As the situation stands, with all airports and some seaports open, and with very limited testing for the disease being done, the only reasonable measure that can protect the public is to quarantine all arrivals into the country, wherever they come from! Every country in the world now has COVID-19! That is, after all, why it is called a global pandemic! So, all arrivals from any country must be considered to be potential carriers of the virus and must be handled as such.
Further, the present system of in-home isolation or self-regulated quarantine is dangerous, because it is unenforceable. Even when the authorities seize the passports of people on arrival, as is being done in some cases; this cannot guarantee compliance with the quarantine requirements. And a guarantee of compliance (not merely a likelihood) is what is required in the present circumstances! We simply must ensure that all persons observe the quarantine fully. The stakes are simply too high to have it otherwise. This calls for a government-operated isolation facility to house all new arrivals for the 14-day quarantine period. It is the only way to protect the public from potential harm and prevent the spread of the virus in our country.
My friends, despite the relentless march and huge toll of the coronavirus pandemic, we are not powerless to defend ourselves. We can and must fight back!. There are effective things that we can do together to protect ourselves and one another. You may have heard about some of them before, but it helps to be reminded from time to time, lest we become complacent.
Stay at home: Stay at home as much as possible. This is critical for older persons and persons with health problems such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. The younger, healthier persons can volunteer, with the necessary precautions, to help the elderly and vulnerable members of our communities by delivering their groceries and medication. Now that they need us most, we must not fail them.
If you can work from home, please do so. Employers, make work-from home arrangements with your employees, especially those who are in at-risk categories. Online tools are available to facilitate staff meetings and to supervise work so that satisfactory levels of productivity are maintained.
Practice Social/Physical Distancing: We are a fun-loving, sociable people. The evening lime with friends, the house party and the beach picnic are part of who we are as a people and come out easily, especially in the young. But, the circumstances in which we find ourselves now require us to change our behaviour, for a while. We can do it. We must do it!
Avoid all forms of physical greeting. The handshake, the kiss and hug must all wait until we get out of this mess. Also, keep a safe distance of 3 to 6 feet between you and other persons. Avoid crowds and public gatherings.
Remember, preventing the spread of COVID-19 is a collective responsibility. It is your responsibility; it is my responsibility. So, do your part and practice social and physical distancing, as recommended by the health professionals. We are yet to hear specifics from government as to how social distancing will be incorporated into commercial activity, and I commend those establishments already leading this effort.
To business places, I wish also to recommend the following: please allow for the opening and closing of the doors for your customers. provide means to wash or sanitize hands upon entry to your business places; place markers on the floor, 3 to 6 feet apart, for customers who must stand in line to be served; limit the number of persons who can be inside at any given time, allow for safe distance between customers inside and encourage safe distancing of persons outside the entrance; adjust office spacing and seating to allow for safe distancing between employees and implement and enforce guidelines for proper hand hygiene; disinfect used surfaces regularly throughout the day and restaurants, try your best to shift your operations to take-out service.